Connacht 8-30 Scarlets
Connacht fell to a disappointing defeat to in-form Scarlets at the Sportsground with the visiting Welsh side producing an excellent performance.
It was a tough night for Connacht with most of the damage done in the first half as the province trailed 22-3 at the break. Craig Ronaldson touched down in the second half to provide a glimmer of hope but Scarlets finished strongly with a late try putting a gloss on the scoreline.
Despite a promising start for Connacht with ball in hand as they played with the benefit of the elements, Scarlets hit the front on four minutes after their first visit into the Connacht 22.
Full-back Johnny McNicholl was released down the left flank and he cut inside opposite number Tiernan O’Halloran to touch down under the posts with Rhys Patchell adding the extras.
Connacht responded well and Marnitz Boshoff slotted over a penalty from the right of the posts on 10 minutes after a decent period of pressure.
Scarlets looked extremely dangerous with ball in hand and Steff Evans crossed in the left corner three minutes later after a brilliant backline move off a scrum with McNicholl making the initial break.
Again, Connacht looked to hit back immediately but Boschoff pulled his penalty wide after a high tackle on the out-half.
All of the Scarlets offloads were sticking and they touched down again through Evans on 26 minutes in the left corner. McNicholl provided the telling pass just before he was bundled into touch with everything going the visitors’ way as they led 17-3.
The fourth Scarlets try arrived on the half-hour with the Welsh side rampant as Steff Evans released Liam Williams for their fourth try for a 22-3 half-time lead.
After some harsh words in the dressing room at the interval, Connacht came out for the second half desperate to get back in the game.
The first five minutes of the half were spent in Scarlets territory but a scrum penalty went against the hosts and a huge Patchell penalty relieved the pressure.
Connacht were really digging in and were finally rewarded just before the hour as a Ronaldson try brought the hosts back in contention.
The pack set up the opportunity as they disrupted a Scarlets scrum with Jake Heenan making good ground before Dave Heffernan was stopped just short.
Connacht showed great patience to eventually work the ball wide to the left with O’Halloran feeding Tom Farrell with a clever as the centre released Craig Ronaldson to cross in the left corner.
The try was thoroughly deserved and Boshoff was unlucky to see his conversion come back off the post as Connacht now trailed 22-8.
Needing two converted tries in the final 20 minutes, a draw was till within the hosts’ reach but it became a bridge too far when Patchell landed his first penalty on 66 minutes to move Scarlets 25-8 in front.
A superb ankle-tap by Cian Kelleher on Patchell nearly led to a second Connacht try moments later but a handling error saw the opportunity go abegging.
Scarlets finished with a flourish as DTH van der Merve crossed in the right corner late on to cap off an impressive performance.
A presentation was made at full-time for the squad members who will be departing at the end of the season with full details of the departures here.
The final standings will be confirmed following the last PRO12 game of the season next Saturday as Connacht travel to Thomond Park to face Munster (5.15pm).
Connacht: T O’Halloran (D Poolman, 72); D Leader, T Farrell, E Griffin (C Ronaldson, 27), C Kelleher; M Boshoff, C Blade (J Cooney, 62); F Bealham (JP Cooney, 68), D Heffernan (S Delahunt, 68), D Robertson-McCoy (D Buckley h-t); J Cannon (Q Roux, 46), A Browne; S O’Brien, J Heenan, E Masterson (J Muldoon, 46).